Oswald Garrison Villard, journalist and editor of the New York Evening Post, chaired the Education and Recreation Committee. He was an activist and one of the founders of the NAACP. Countee Cullen, poet and novelist, was co-chair. Others on the committee included Reverend John W. Robinson, who chaired the Permanent Committee on Better Schools in Harlem, and Monsignor William R. McCann, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. The Committee’s investigations and hearings revealed considerable social and safety issues experienced by Harlem students.
The Committee documented that Harlem schools were unsanitary and provided poor learning environments. The schools lacked funding for classroom materials, food, and after-school programs. Thirteen schools within Harlem were built before 1900; only one dated after 1910. The committee took a close look at P.S. 89, on the corner of 135th Street and Lenox Ave, which was built in 1889. They documented the unfit location of the school, which was situated in an area with eighteen beer gardens, six liquor stores, four moving-picture houses and two hotels alleged to be hotspots of prostitution. This presented safety issues, especially for young girls who would have to beware of men in the neighborhood.
The classroom furniture was dilapidated, and fire hazards were a huge concern. “This school, which is classified as a partially fireproof building had six fires during the past four years.” Some lackluster teachers were beyond their retirement age and followed discriminatory practices. Schools are supposed to be a safe space for students to learn, but the Harlem schools lacked adequate school materials, as well as cultural and academic opportunities. Black girls were steered into vocational courses and were discouraged from enrolling in college preparatory programs.
The Committee noted, “Since poverty, as we have shown in the third chapter, is the problem of primary importance to the Negro in Harlem, it is responsible for many of the problem of the schools in the community. Many of the children stay away from school because of the lack of food and especially clothing.” They concluded that the City should build modern schools and students should be placed temporarily in other locations in order to reduce class sizes. Further, they recommended that the number of teachers should be increased and that schools be properly cleaned. Finally, they described the “traditional notions and prejudices” that denied Black students educational opportunities and access to professional career paths.